North Carolina

Duke Energy files new NC rate case. Here’s what it means for your bill.

Duke Energy is proposing to raise residential customers’ power bills by 6.7% in North Carolina, the company announced Monday.

A residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month would pay, under the higher rate, about $116.26 per month — an increase of $8.06 per month, according to Duke Energy Carolinas.

The increase for residential customers would be higher than the 5% average increase Duke has proposed for commercial and industrial customers.

Duke Energy filed its rate case with the North Carolina Utilities Commission on Monday. The commission will review the request and set rates after a months-long review process, which includes opportunities for public comment.

Duke Energy asked in its filing that the commission make a decision on the rates no later than August 1, 2020.

Last year, Duke increased its rate for residential customers in western and central North Carolina, including in Charlotte, by an average of 0.3%, the Observer reported at the time.

That rate hike last year came after the commission rejected Duke’s initial request.

Under the original request, residential rates would have gone up by 16.7% last year. Duke Energy said at the time that the smaller rate hike was made possible by federal tax reform for the company.

The rate hike proposed Monday would bring in an extra $291 million in annual revenue for Duke, the company said. Company officials say the money would cover Duke’s costs related to using cleaner energy and improving reliability.

The rate increase asks customers to pay $36 million for costs the company incurred during Hurricane Florence and Michael and Winter Storm Diego in 2018, according to the filing.

Reducing carbon emissions

In mid-September, the utilities company pledged to release no net carbon emissions by 2050, and announced plans to seek 20-year license renewals for all six of its nuclear power plants in the Carolinas.

Duke also set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 — a plan that depends on nuclear energy.

The rate increase will make investments in renewable resources possible, Duke Energy’s North Carolina President Stephen De May said.

Those investments include transitioning some coal-fired power plants to natural gas plants, managing coal ash and closing ash basins, the company said.

The proposed increase includes $123.6 million associated with environmental compliance costs.

Duke Energy was ordered April 1, 2019 to excavate millions of tons of coal ash from power plants and basins, including two near Charlotte on Lake Wylie and Lake Norman. In 2018, the utilities commission authorized Duke to charge state customers to recover money the company spent on closing ash-storage sites around the state, the Observer reported.

Low-income customers

The filing also made provisions for low-income customers, De May said.

The company proposed eliminating fees for customers paying bills through direct debit or credit cards. Those fees affect many customers, De May said, but take a bigger toll on low-income customers.

“We recognize that any increase can be hard on certain swaths of our customer base,” De May said. “So we were deliberately looking for ways to mitigate that.”

The rate increase request did not ask for a change to the basic facilities charge — basically a minimum bill, De May said.

Duke Energy Carolinas also asked the commission to establish a workshop to study adding protections for low-income customers.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on aviation and health care. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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